Being of a similar vintage to Karl du Fresne meant this book really resonated with me. The journalist and music lover and his wife visited the United States of America three times, covering thousands of miles and taking in 24 towns and cities mentioned in song titles.
There were the familiar, like Galveston, Twenty Four Hours From Tulsa, Viva Las Vegas and Little Old Lady From Pasadena, but there were also songs I’d never heard of, like Bowling Green, Streets of Bakersfield, and Saginaw, Michigan. Whenever I came across a song I wasn’t familiar with, I sought out the YouTube version and listened to it before reading that chapter, often listening to it more than once to pick up things du Fresne mentioned.
There were also songs that I was familiar with but never knew what they were called, like Mendocino, Lodi, and Nashville Cats – so it was an education for me learning their names as well as reading where the inspiration for the songs came from.
The book meanders across the country, part-history lesson, part-education, part-geography, part-music and part-restaurant review. It’s a good yarn and one that will appeal to many. The writer’s travels take him across states and into backwaters most people aren’t even aware of. He tells of racial tension, heartbreak and misfortune as well as success, and gives us a glimpse into the lives of those who wrote and performed the songs many of us grew up listening to.
I found myself hunting through my own collection to hear a number of the songs featured in the book and it gave me a whole new appreciation of them. I had been guilty of listening to them over the years without really taking in the lyrics, and now when Galveston or Twenty Four Hours From Tulsa are played on classic hits stations, I remember the stories behind the songs.
A Road Tour of American Song Titles is much more than a road trip, it’s like the best of campfire stories told by someone who has an easy way of writing that carries you along on the journey.
Unfortunately royalty fees and difficulties tracking down the owners meant du Fresne was unable to reproduce the lyrics to the songs, but they are available online for anyone who wants to hunt them down.
The only thing I wasn’t so fond of was the footnotes, as I felt they interrupted the narrative flow. Aside from that, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and hope – as there are plenty more song titles he could cover – there is a sequel.
Reviewed by Faye Lougher
A Road Tour of American Song Titles
by Karl du Fresne
Published by Bateman